Sunday, 4 March 2007

The blackest hole.

When I started doing telephone counselling people said 'How can you take a suicide call? It must be so hard."

No, suicide calls are in fact the easiest of the bunch. To some extent the fact that people call at all means that they are at best ambivalent and looking for reasons not to proceed.

Next easiest are the acute calls, people in crisis. Something has happened in their life and they need immediate help.

The more difficult calls are the chronic calls, people with on-going issues who are repeat callers and almost seem not to want their issues resolved and cling to them like a security blanket.

But if you want a hard call, a call that can also nail you, the counsellor, as well, then grief calls are by far the most difficult ones to take.

Suicides callers want to be talked out of it, acute callers want resolution to their immediate problem, chronic callers need direction and short term guidance, but grief callers, where the caller is absolutely consumed with the despair, emptiness and injustice of their loss, they are the really tough ones to take.

There are no answers.


  1. What was your training for such calls? What DO you say to those folk?

  2. well put, lee. i can agree wholeheartedly. the only solace i've ever felt in moments of great grief have come from someone simply sitting there with me silently, holding my hand, breathing softly within that surreal, outside-of-time space.

    silence over the phone may sound unworkable, but i imagine if one could feel you just breathing with them on the other end of the phone, giving witness to their sorrow, holding some of it along with them, it might provide some solace. feeling our humanness through connection with another person can be healing. what would you think of saying something like "let's breathe here together for a moment and give witness to your grief" in a case like this?

  3. A Samaritan (from the telephone counselling organisation) does not reach down into the black hole to lift the despairing one out, but climbs down beside them, stays with them and befriends them until they both can climb out together.
    What do you "say to such folk"? Socratic questioning is useful, but companionable, caring silence with the odd friendly interjection can be good.

  4. There is not a lot you can say. From our notes what helps is:

    - listen with empathy
    - normalise
    - acknowledge that the world has changed forever
    - encourage talking about the loss
    - allow expressions of emotion
    - validate negative feelings (guilt etc)
    - explore copying style and supports
    - assess suicidality

  5. That's true - no answers there, only process.

    Strange, I just left Keshi's blog which also concerned suicide and I'll leave the same quotation I left with her. The best single anti suicide quote I ever heard - it has to apply to an overwhelmingly large percent of people who consider suicide:

    "Suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem."

  6. I'm not comfortable with the idea of phone counselling..maybe to some people it's easier coz you can't see the guy on the other line..maybe it's just like blogging where you just type whatever you want without thinking what the cyber world will think of you. And as for you, how do you know the caller is genuine? Some guys might be just pretending to have problem for fun..who knows..

    I still prefer eye-contact.

  7. I imagine the hardest of all would be those who do not call.

  8. Lee: Yes, those who are too distressed to call or don't know that they can are in a worse position. I was commenting more from the popint of view of the counsellor having to take the calls.

    Hliza: It is only a crisis management system really; people are much better served by a face to face counsellor but location, time of day or urgency often make this impossible. In many ways our roll is to calm them until they cvan get to a regular counsellor. Some counsellors even suggest their clients to ring us if they are having issues 'out of hours'.

    I don't know that a caller is genuine. Nor do I know what happens when I put down the phone. I just hope that I have in some way helped. We do get crank calls; generally they cannot maintain the story under questioning and are often school kids. That is a price worth paying. We also get sexual harassment calls, men who want to masturbate while talking to a lady. Happily they hang up if I answer.

    But the good fara outweighs the bad.

  9. I did phone counseling, once, Lee. I'll never do it again. I just don't have the personality for it. I was too prone to think, "Well, then why don't you do something about it."

    My empathy gene (similar to what I said on the other Lee's blog, just not so directly) is a bit atrophied.

    I'm not callous. I just look for answers when I examine problems. I can't dwell on them. If I can't fix it or ignore it, I live with it.

  10. As a counsellor and as someone experiencing loss and real grief for the first time in my life, thanks for the thoughtful post.

  11. I was gonna say it's nice that you are there to just listen and be there but then reading Snowsparkle's comment I have to agree, she said it all too.

  12. Just having the guts to take their call is an answer in itself, Lee.

  13. No one can feel someone elses pain or say anything that really offers relief, so i can why this would be a difficult call to handle. i remember going to my Uncles funeral, and everyone was offering condolences to my Aunt, and saying they understood, and how sorry they were, and I watched her sinking deeper and deeper into darkness. They were well meaning, but it wasn't helping. Finally she said, YOU DO NOT know how I feel, I feel like I am being washed over the edge of a ship during a storm and there is no life saver.

  14. at my country, counselor and lawyer, only become the last persons that we want to meet. Even most of us is person who always crying for help.


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